Reading Rights Coalition Steps Up Criticism of Random House Over Text-to-Speech Function

by Staff

Two months after the National Federation of the Blind and eight other disability groups wrote a strongly worded letter to Random House asking the publisher to reconsider its decision to deactivate the Amazon Kindle 2's text-to-speech function for its e-book titles, Random House last week went ahead with its plan to disable the software, provoking a sharp rebuke from the coalition.

The Reading Rights Coalition, a group of thirty nationally recognized organizations that represent those who cannot read print, issued a press release yesterday denouncing the world's largest English language trade publisher. With quotes from seven executives from disability groups within the coalition, the press release was an impassioned response to what Andrew Imparato , president and CEO of American Association of People with Disabilities, called the publisher's callous disregard for "the right of American consumers with disabilities to get access to the same content at the same price at the same time as everyone else."

"When Random House turned off the text-to-speech function on all of its e-books for the Kindle 2, it turned off access to this service for more than 15 million print-disabled Americans," said Marc Maurer , president of the National Federation of the Blind. "The blind and other print-disabled readers have the right to purchase e-books using this service with text-to-speech enabled. Blocking text-to-speech prohibits access for print-disabled readers and is both reprehensible and discriminatory. We urge President Obama, whose e-books are now being blocked from over 15 million Americans, to either demand that access be restored or to move to a publisher who does not engage in discrimination." Read the full release here

Last month, the coalition protested in front of the New York offices of the Authors Guild, which had expressed concerns about the text-to-speech function's potential violation of audiobook rights when the Kindle 2 was launched in February. The Guild subsequently issued a statement explaining its position: "The Authors Guild will gladly be a forceful advocate for amending contracts to provide access to voice-output technology to everyone. We will not, however, surrender our members' economic rights to Amazon or anyone else. The leap to digital has been brutal for print media generally, and the economics of the transition from print to e-books do not look as promising as many assume. Authors can't afford to start this transition to digital by abandoning rights." The full release can be found here.